Set Goals and Change Your Life

By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

While January is the month we often associate with goal setting, any time of the year is the perfect time to reflect on where you are in your life and career and to think about what you’d like to accomplish in the future. Maybe you’d like to lose some weight, begin exercising regularly, or get more organized. Perhaps you’ve been contemplating going back to school, getting certified in your specialty, or running for office in your professional association. You may even be thinking about doing more writing or speaking or transitioning into a management position. Thoughts, ideas, and dreams are great, but they don’t create action — and action is what gets things done. There’s no better way to create positive action in your life than by writing down your goals.

Think of this: Most of us spend more time planning our vacations than we do planning our lives. Scary? Yes, and curable with a little effort. Goals are a roadmap for your life. They give you an immediate purpose to work toward. Having written goals makes you more motivated and enthusiastic, and it helps to direct your energy. Goals give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Without goals, you’re just floundering around with no specific direction. Before you know it, time will have passed, and you’ll wonder where it went.

Comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.” Goals are specific. Don’t confuse goal-setting with having a clear vision of your future; most of us don’t have one. A goal is an exact thing you want to accomplish. It’s a habit you want to change or adopt, something you’d like to be doing, or something you’d like to learn or master. Goals build the somebody you want to be. Setting goals gives you the opportunity to steer the ship of your own destiny rather than getting washed out to sea.

Everyone needs to have long- and short-term goals. A long-term goal is something you want to accomplish within the next five years. A short-term goal is something you want to accomplish in the next year or less. For example, a short-term goal might be to submit an application to the college of your choice. Your long-term goal would be to graduate from college.

A goal is not the same as an item you might put on a “to-do” list. A goal must be challenging, objective, measurable, and have a time frame associated with it. For example, a wish to be “happy in the future” is not a goal because it is not concrete, measurable, or time-specific. Here are some examples of true goals:
To have an article published in a nursing journal within the next year

  • To submit a proposal to speak at a nursing conference in the next six months
  • To obtain clinical certification within the next three years
  • To be a part-time CPR instructor within the year

It’s not enough to simply think about your goals. You have to write them down and keep them where you will look at them often. Research has shown that if you don’t write down your goals, you’re much less likely to act on them and more inclined to forget them. I suggest getting a 3×5 index card and writing your long-term and short-term goals on that, each with an accompanying target date. Keep the card in your wallet or attached to your refrigerator or someplace else you look often. It serves as a visible reminder to get moving. When you reach a goal, cross it off and set a new one. You should always be stretching yourself and working toward something in your life. That’s what keeps life interesting, challenging, and rewarding. That’s what keeps you young at heart, excited about life, and enjoyable to be around.

Some people don’t set goals because of what they perceive they will have to give up in pursuing them. Well, everything is a trade-off, and while you always pay a price for reaching your goals, you pay an even bigger price for not reaching your goals. Never realizing your dreams or finding out what you’re capable of is a very high price to pay. It has been said that when we are at the end of our lives, we don’t regret the things we’ve done but rather the things we haven’t done.

You have an opportunity to make things happen in your personal and professional life. Good things don’t happen by chance. They happen through careful planning and execution. Set some goals this month and change your life . . . for the better.

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